US healthcare workers face increasing risk of workplace injuries and deaths

Violence against healthcare workers increased with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as hospitals became places of mass death and frustration, with patients and family members being denied adequate care as that the number and severity of hospitalizations were skyrocketing. Under these conditions, there have been multiple incidents of violent attacks on healthcare workers resulting in serious injury and death.

Nurses picket at M Health Fairview on June 1, 2022 [Photo: WSWS]

On May 27, Kevin Robinson, a 40-year-old mental health technician, was assaulted by a patient who had been admitted to Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital in Sumter, South Carolina, for a mental health evaluation ordered by the court. The attack took place when the patient attempted to leave the hospital and was arrested by security. Mental Health Unit staff eventually intervened and the patient began kicking, hitting Robinson in the groin with her knee. Robinson fell ill and began to vomit, then became unresponsive and went into cardiac arrest, then died three days later after being admitted to intensive care.

The patient was immediately sedated after the altercation and transferred to another hospital. After her release, she was charged with second-degree battery and incarcerated in the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office Detention Center. The 27-year-old has now been charged with homicide after the Sumter County coroner found the cause of death to be physiological stress related to the physical altercation and exacerbated by cardiomegaly and obesity.

Increase in violence against health care workers

This case is not an anomaly. Violence against healthcare workers, including targeted killings by patients, is on the rise. On June 1, 2022, 45-year-old Michael Louis murdered three healthcare workers and a patient before turning a gun on himself at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Apparently, Louis was upset about the lingering pain he had felt following recent back surgery and was seeking revenge against his doctor and anyone who tried to stop him at the Saint Francis Hospital Complex in Tulsa.

On June 3, just two days after the mass shooting at the Saint Francis Hospital Complex in Tulsa, a 35-year-old man walked into Encino Hospital Medical Center in San Fernando Valley, California and stabbed two nurses and a doctor in the emergency department. The man went to the emergency room to seek treatment for anxiety before attacking healthcare workers. He was arrested by members of the SWAT team after spending four hours barricaded in a hospital room.

And on October 30, 2021, a registered nurse at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital in Longwood, Florida was attacked by a male patient who was admitted to the behavioral health unit under Baker Law, which allows the temporary institutionalization of an individual. for 72 hours that has some violent or suicidal ideation. The nurse was giving medicine to another patient when the attacker, Joseph Wuerz, 53, entered the room and threw her against a wall and attempted to kick her as staff held her down. moved away. Later, the nurse, who was 32 weeks pregnant, discovered that she had lost the child from the attack. Wuerz was transferred to John E. Polk Correctional Facility and held on $90,000 bail and charged with manslaughter of an unborn child, aggravated assault of a pregnant woman and assault serious against a nurse.

In response to the attack on mental health technician Kevin Robinson at Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital, longtime WellPath psychiatrist Dr. Todd Engles said he treats patients similar to Cox on a daily basis and everyone world, from emergency doctors to hospital security, should receive the same level of mental health training every year to learn how to defuse similar crises. Engles also said that if healthcare workers are interacting appropriately and respectfully, it’s not ‘the most common thing’ to hit, as if to blame it on individual healthcare workers and not the system. for-profit that creates these conditions.

An article written by Kaiser Health News correspondents details how physical assaults on healthcare workers have increased since the start of the pandemic. According to federal data, in 2018 healthcare workers faced 73% of all non-fatal injuries from workplace violence, but the numbers are thought to be much higher since the onset of COVID-19. A National Nurses United survey of union and non-union nurses in September 2021 found that 31% of hospital nurses had experienced workplace violence, an increase of 22% from their March 2021 survey.

A similar theme rings out about the causes of the increase in violence against health care workers. These include: 1) not enough training in de-escalation techniques, 2) not enough staff to meet patient needs, and 3) political differences in public health, medical issues that make patients confused and combative.

The solution is claimed to be increased security and video surveillance, de-escalation training, adequate staffing levels, bills and laws to force hospitals to implement violence prevention plans and to use the court system to charge patients.

While all of this is true and immediately necessary, none of the proposed analyzes ever address the root cause of all these problems, which is that health care is for profit under capitalism. In an effort to increase profits and reduce costs, government and corporations at all levels have gutted social services, public health, health care and mental health services for the working class. Additionally, there is the issue of the impact on the working class of extreme levels of stress, compounded by poverty, inflation, lack of access to food, attacks on abortion rights and the threat of fascism and nuclear war.

According to a Live Science article titled “Inflation Could Hit Your Mental Health As Much As Your Wallet, Psychologists Say,” doctors note that the higher cost of living is a major new stressor in addition to the trauma of COVID-19 pandemic. A report published in March this year by the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the first year of the pandemic alone.

Growing Opposition in the Working Class

Meanwhile, there is growing opposition within the working class to deteriorating conditions, with an increasing number of strikes breaking out in major industries around the world. In the United States, there were 153 strikes involving approximately 73,500 workers between January and May 2022, compared to 78 strikes involving approximately 22,500 workers during the same period in 2021. This includes strikes led by health care workers in response to the nightmarish conditions in the hospitals as they now face a double pandemic with the piggy bank epidemic spreading rapidly.

On Monday, August 15, at least 2,000 mental health workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California are set to go on an indefinite strike over chronic understaffing, low wages and to demand compliance with the law. of the State which guarantees patients rapid access to mental health services. Health care. Their strike is just one expression of growing opposition to impossible conditions in hospitals across the United States and beyond.

The anger is reaching a breaking point where healthcare workers are leaving the profession in droves. However, at every moment, the unions intervened to block the strikes and oppose any systematic response to these intolerable conditions.

To continue their fight, health care workers must begin to band together in rank-and-file committees at every workplace to begin asserting their democratic control over working conditions and demanding the staffing and working conditions that they and their patients need to be safe. These committees, led by health care workers themselves, should be independent of pro-management unions. They will forge ties with other sections of workers, such as teachers, autoworkers, logistics workers in the United States and around the world in a powerful movement to demand decent health care for all as a fundamental social right.

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